Remember a few weeks ago when to help promote the In It Together Fest, I only wrote about punk(ish) bands and you were like “WTF Bryce, I just want some hot summer jamz?” Well this week has you covered. The stars aligned and somehow my column that I tell people is used to promote indie and local bands that don’t get enough/the right press coverage got taken over by pop stars. It’s summer. It happens.
And speaking of summer and music, make sure you get your tickets to All Things Go’s Fall Classic happening September 13th featuring Future Islands and Bear Hands and U.S. Royalty and I shouldn’t have to name more.
Also, please follow the Tunes You Should Know in 2014 Spotify Playlist.
Onto the music!
- Paolo Nutini – Caustic Love
I HAD TO REMOVE THE YOUTUBE LINK TO THE FULL ALBUM BUT YOU’RE SMART PEOPLE
Caustic Love is one of the best albums I have heard this year. Period. I honestly can’t believe that this soulful, bluesy, album hasn’t been embraced by the world over as the magical gem of music that it is.
Only it sort of has been. Believe it or not, Paolo Nutini, the soulful man behind this thing, is already a pop star.
Since falling in love with the live video of “Iron Sky” that you should be watching right now, I’ve learned that not only did Caustic Love debut at number one on the UK Album Charts, it’s already been certified platinum. Oh, and the previous two efforts from this Scottish singer both debuted at the top of the UK charts when they were released in 2006 and 2006, respectively (former guest-writer Ben Wormald was infuriated I didn’t at least remember “New Shoes”). He’s got to be the biggest star we’ve never heard of, right?
I mean seriously UK, way to hide this dude. I know we have a tendency to ruin talented “alternative” pop acts over here in the New World (see: what we did to Maroon 5 after the underrated Songs About Jane), but I have an idea: what if we just don’t let Americans know he’s that popular? What if we just decide here and now “this guy is an R&B/soul singer, not a pop star.” I’m thinking like a white Frank Ocean (hey imagine that collaboration?). Because let’s be honest, this album is more Joe Cocker and Stevie Wonder than it is Pharrell or Sam Smith, and Nutini deserves to be named among the right group of people, otherwise we’re not being responsible fans.
Plus with a 5-year gap between releases, Nutini, whose debut album blew up while he was still in his teens back in 2006, feels like he’s more than content to be that kind of guy too. Back in June, he told Q Magazine that he’s smoked weed everyday since he was 16 while simultaneously rebuking a certain pop star for doing pop star things, he’s famously known for performing with his eyes closed (and those things are his money-makers), but most importantly, he’s come off said 5-year hiatus with an album that is so respectably engrossing that I have slightly resented any moment these past few days where I am not listening to it. It’s just that good.
But I don’t know how much longer Caustic Love or Nutini can stay a secret on this side of the Atlantic. Talent like this can’t hide forever. All we can do is hope that when that time does come, he’s able to fend off the people from The Voice that come offering him a rotating chair. And, bonus, if you want to see this guy live before he gets obscenely popular, he’s going to be at the Lincoln Theater (perfect venue/artist combo) on September 17th. Get tickets here. Come say hi to me when you’re there.
- In The Valley Below – “Peaches” and “Neverminders”
In The Valley Below are basically a two-piece synth pop group made up of a hip-looking guy and a hip-looking gal playing over mostly electronic percussion. Oversaturation of this micro-genre shouldn’t have let my apathetic fingers even click play on “Neverminder” when I got an email about it the other week, but they did and thank god, because this song, along with year-old single “Peaches,” was a bucket of ice water on my elitist cynicism.
I hate to make the easy comparison of The Naked And Famous, but Jeffrey Jacob & Angela Gail, who make up In The Valley Below do have a similar ability to incorporate analog guitar, rock sensibilities, and a humanizing angst into their inarguably poppy songs. It’s not in the same, aggressive manner that The Naked and Famous are (ahem) famous for, but it does help distinguish their songs from ones built on similar, usually-too-famililar song structures.
Plus “Neverminders” is catchy as shit.
The verse is pure saccharine pop and the chorus could be straight out of a 90’s pop-rock chorus. It’s anthemic, it’s easy to remember, and it’s a “good” enough song that you don’t have too feel bad about dancing along to it. That’s a dangerous combination, and if this is what we have to look forward to with In The Valley Below’s upcoming Belt, which you can preorder here, then they could easily be opening up for HAIM or Sylvan Esso or anyone in between in the near future.
- Ryn Weavers – “Promises” / Promises EP
Ryn Weavers may have stumbled into becoming a pop star, but she’s got to watch herself.
I only learned of Ryn Weaver (aka Aryn Wüthrich) last week when former guest-writer Kwasi Ansu turned me onto the 21-year-old’s single “Promises,” and I was taken aback at how efficiently pleasant it was. It seemed to literally hit all the right notes. It found a way to blend pop “tricks” like vocal manipulations and production dazzles seamlessly with a song that, if stripped to its bare essentials, would feel like Florence and the Machine doing a cousin to Rihanna’s “Stay.” But apparently I’m behind the curve on this one too.
Ryn Weaver is blowing up because, thanks to a friendship with producer Benny Blanco, she stumbled into a wonderfully produced song called “OctaHate” courtesy of the dream team of Charli XCX, Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos, Cashmere Cat and Mr. Blanco that even scored Ryn her very own “Meet Ryn Weaver, The Mysterious Twentysomething Behind This Summer’s Best Song” Buzzfeed article (the industry’s secret new way to spring potential pop darlings on an unsuspecting audience). Only I don’t know if she was right for this song in the first place.
She’s almost too talented to settle for something like “OctaHate,” a song (like the other 3 non-“Promises” tracks on her EP) that feels like an Ellie Goulding reject. For some reason that I can’t explain, I hear something in “Promises” that makes me think Ryn Weaver is meant for not necessarily bigger, but at the very least better things. And there is a precedent for this kind of thing…
There’s a British pop star named Clare Maguire who is exceptionally talented (as her more recent releases have proven), but her debut album a few years ago was an overly-tampered-with mess of an attempt at a pop album. When I publicly assumed as much in my review in this very column, she had the balls to message me on Twitter and infer that’s exactly what happened. She’s since moved on from the bad influences, and I promise you we will be hearing from her again very soon.
And I don’t want to see Ryn Weavers have to go through that same thing. And I’m not shitting on people like Charli XCX or Michael Angelakos, but there’s a reason people “love” Charli XCX yet they respect Florence. But Florence and The Machine aren’t the only ones who can do Florence and the Machine. HAIM doesn’t have a monopoly on that sound of theirs (as a few up and coming bands are proving). Ms. Weaver is young and talented enough to rebound from this kind of a false-start EP, but if she wants to really be something worth writing about again in the future, she’s going to have to believe in her own talents as opposed to her producers.
BYT: Saving the world, one pop star at a time.
- Taylor Swift – “Shake It Off”
Remember just a little bit ago when I said “Promises” was almost the perfect mid-tempo pop ballad? Well “Shake It Off” is the perfect pop song for 2014. Not almost. Not sort of. It is. “Call Me Maybe” was inescapably catchy when it came out, but even Carly Rae knew it was gibberish. “Happy” got obnoxious about 48 hours after you first heard it. But “Shake It Off” is everything that a pop audience wants in 2014.
All because Taylor Swift discovered what “meta” meant.
It’s not only self-aware, it’s aware of that self-awareness (awareness is really in right now). With a beat that is a shameless mashup of “Hey Mickey” and what sounds like the Black Eyed Peas doing their best Outkast impression mixed with lyrics that read like Gawker’s comment section, this song is the most blatant attempt at making a pop single since “We Can’t Stop,” only it’s lightyears beyond that song both in terms of 4th-wall shattering and audience pandering. It’s also infinitely more successful.
There’s a reason that as I write this late Tuesday night at The Coupe (shoutout Coupe late night staff), the music video already has 11 million views. It’s the same reason I found myself dancing alone in my bedroom mouthing along to the words, glad that Mollie was still in Uganda for a few more weeks: This song is not only a music/pop culture blogger’s wet dream in terms of lyrical and visual content, it’s a perfectly constructed pop song.
It took everything it knew we couldn’t help but love and it threw it all together into one song. It even told us it it knew what it was doing. All delivered to us via the mouth of America’s favorite frenemy. Packaged with a music video that you could build a community college film course around. It’s the perfectly constructed pop song for this specific moment in time.
Taylor Swift may not be able to write a coherent Wall Street Journal op-ed, but she and her team are absolute geniuses when it comes to ruling the music industry. All hail the queen.